Our current knowledge of how climate change affects the terrestrial environment is relatively well-developed. But when it comes to the oceans and coastal areas, information
is still lacking about the effects of climate change. A marine research project in the Western Indian Ocean, will therefore fill in the gaps and develop a joint plan on how the problems should be addressed.
For nearly 20 years, WIOMSA, the Marine Research Council for the Western Indian Ocean has contributed to a better understanding of the region’s marine and coastal environment; a region covering Africa’s entire East Coast, as well as five of the Western Indian Ocean’s island nations. Climate research however, is a relatively new area. WIOMSA, with the support of a three-year grant from Sida, is studying how climate change affects the seas and coastal zones, and what adaptation measures will be most beneficial.
“We have funded 12 different research projects in the region. For example, we have studied where the coral reefs are least affected when the temperatures rise, depending on how the warm water currents move along the coast. These areas have the greatest chance of survival, and therefore need to be prioritised as regards protection from overfishing and destructive fishing practices,” says Julius Francis, at WIOMSA’s secretariat on Zanzibar, outside Tanzania.
The mangrove trees’ ability to cope with floods or increased sedimentation is another research project. This is aimed at identifying which species of mangrove have the greatest resilience to being planted in the most sensitive and vulnerable areas.
Climate change means long-term change. But the people in the poor coastal villages are more focused on how to cope with tomorrow than the situation in five years’ time, according to Julius Francis. One of the projects will therefore look at the short-term fluctuations of the climate, and see how they relate to long-term change.
“Researchers have studied how the changed rainfall patterns are linked to the rising sea temperatures. Based on that, they will develop a model that can inform farmers if the rains will arrive on time. The impact of sea temperatures on monsoon winds is also being studied as many fishermen say that the periods with strong winds increase, reducing the number of days to go fishing.”
The policy work is an equally important component, and at a conference held in Mauritius in 2011, politicians and researchers from the entire region gathered for the first time for an open discussion on how climate change affects marine and coastal environments.
“All countries in the region have their priorities, but many of the climate change challenges are of transboundary nature. That is why we are working to develop a common regional strategy for the whole of the region’s oceans and coastal environments, together with UNEP and the UN’s Nairobi Convention,” says Julius Francis.
In order for climate change research to make a real difference, a long-term perspective is required. And ensuring improved cooperation between researchers and policymakers, so that the knowledge generated informs decision-making, says Julius Francis:
“We say to the scientists receiving funding, that they must think further ahead than simply having their results published in a magazine. In some of our projects we have been successful in doing this, and we receive recognition for being the region’s leading research council with the largest portfolio of climate change-related projects.”
Facts: WIOMSA and the Climate Change Marine research
For almost 20 years, Sida has supported marine research in East Africa and has contributed to the development of the Marine Research council WIOMSA, (Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association), based on Zanzibar.
WIOMSA supports research in all countries, except Somalia,in the Western Indian Ocean region, (WIO). WIO is comprised of 10 countries: Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and the island nations Mauritius, the Comoros, Reunion-France, the Seychelles and Madagascar.
Sida’s support for research on climate change in the region’s coastal and marine environments,amounts to a total of SEK 13 million for the period 2009-2011. An assessment on the extension of the support is in progress.